Big Data Analytics / Changing Workforce

2015: Exploring technologies and issues that will affect the industry

Thomas Wilk wonders what challenges await us in 2015.

By Thomas Wilk, chief editor

It is early December as I write this, and the fall event season is winding down. As the new editor on Plant Services it’s been exciting to take a deeper dive into the issues facing our industry, and to meet the incredible people who are advancing industrial maintenance and reliability with such passion.

It’s my goal to match that energy in the pages of Plant Services, engaging with maintenance and reliability practitioners–with you–to deliver core knowledge while staying in front of trends that are redefining traditional plant roles. For example, our new Disruptive Technology series leads off in January with a cover story exploring how additive manufacturing technologies (i.e., 3D printing) are impacting maintenance and reliability strategies.

For maintenance professionals, the convenience and affordability of 3D printing is easing the pain associated with locating obsolete or difficult to obtain machine parts, especially for teams who work in harsh or remote locations where parts replacement and delivery times can present major cost headaches. However, there is work to be done to sort through the rollover effect that additive manufacturing technologies will have along the spares supply chain, such as changes to inventory processes and traditional supply chain relationships. The future may be slightly hazy but the conversations are already under way.

Other topics in the Disruptive Technology Series will include cloud-based maintenance and reliability approaches, enabling better decisions based on big data collection and analytics; OEM-enabled condition monitoring, which allows OEMs to observe installed assets and push needed information to the owner while using the same data set to refine their own machine designs; the increased application of robotics technologies, which is redefining the plant team skill set; and the increasing adoption of plant automation/control networks to better monitor and maintain equipment and protect personnel.   

We will also focus more frequently on an issue that continues to be a hot topic – workforce change. The event hallways were buzzing about how the flow of knowledge and expertise out the door as the Baby Boomer generation retires is affecting plants worldwide.

At the October SMRP Annual Conference, Ahmed Orfali of Saudi Aramco charted how generational percentages among employees at his plant changed over a five year period. In 2009, the portion of Baby Boomers was 45% and that of Millennials was 19%; five years later, in 2014, those percentages had almost completely flipped, with Millennials now the largest represented generation at 43% of all employees. (Generation X stayed constant over time at 36-37%.)

In response to this dramatic shift, his team rethought and updated their approach to knowledge transfer: “Every generation receives information differently, and the delivery of it has to be tailored so it can be received properly, without harming the essence and integrity of the knowledge itself.”

We here at Plant Services share this goal, and look forward to engaging with you in 2015 to bring sharper focus to technologies and issues that affect us all.